Adam Wildman is Deputy Chief of Staff for the GLA Conservatives and a local Conservative candidate for Bexley council. He writes in a personal capacity.
Most readers will no doubt be aware of the importance of air quality. It is often reported that breathing in harmful gases causes complications for those with heart or lung conditions, and that living in high polluting areas over a long period can affect end of life mortality. But what is not so often reported is that air quality in the UK has been consistently improving for over 40 years now.
One would not appreciate this from reading recent headlines. Just last week, the former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, claimed that the UK’s levels of nitrogen oxide had reached “emergency levels”. The Labour Party also branded the levels of pollution in our towns and cities as a “national scandal”. But such scaremongering detracts from the truth of the matter.
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) are the primary pollutants that negatively affect our health. What is almost never said is that, since 1970, PM10 emissions have fallen by 73 per cent and PM2.5 emissions by 76 per cent. Also, NOx emissions have fallen by just under 69 per cent. Indeed, NOx emissions have fallen every year since 1991 bar one, where levels remained flat. Britain’s track record on reducing air pollutants is a continuing success; a message almost completely absent from media reporting.
The international standards for air quality are set at the UN level, and are contained within the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol. This details the reduction required by 2020 for volatile organic compounds (air pollutants). On current trends and without further intervention, the UK is on track to meet its international commitments. Real data on UK air quality exposes the rhetoric of the Labour Party, and the Left in general, as nothing more than shameless scaremongering.
Such scare tactics are potentially harmful to the average British motorist, who so often bear the brunt of the ‘green’ taxes advocated by the Left. It is often ignored that road transport accounts for just 15 per cent of total emissions, despite the fact that car passenger hours have doubled since 1970. The majority of emissions are non-transport related, such as wood-fire home combustion, building site emissions, industrial processes or inefficient boilers. It is actually the case that homes with inefficient boilers have NO2 levels that often exceed those measured at the road side.
Motorists need to catch a break. UK fuel duty and VAT now amount to approximately 70 per cent of the price at the pumps. Since the financial crash, while living costs have increased on average by 30 per cent, motor insurance and taxes have increased by a staggering 143 per cent. Imposing additional motoring taxes or parking charges in the name of environmentalism would be financially punitive.
This is why the Prime Minister’s noises about a diesel scrappage scheme are to be welcomed. Such a scheme would undo the damage caused by the last Labour government. Back in 2001, Labour cut Vehicle Excise Duty on diesel cars in order to promote low-carbon alternatives. While it was a success on this measure, the policy triggered a steep increase in diesel car ownership. Given that diesel cars emit four times the levels of nitrogen oxide as petrol cars and 22 times more particulates, this had implications for air quality.
Theresa May’s scheme will likely target poorer drivers and help them to purchase low-emission vehicles. The payments could be as much as £2,000 and will provide a strong incentive for diesel drivers to switch. While the levels of poor air have been over-hyped, there is no doubt that more needs to done to continue Britain’s good performance in improving air quality. Encouraging poorer drivers to purchase low-emission vehicles would do just that.
Looking beyond this policy, in the upcoming Conservative manifesto the Prime Minister should also commit to ensuring that no new ‘green’ or ‘clean air’ taxes are imposed on hard-up motorists. The current emissions standards have done a good job of slowly and sensitively shifting drivers towards less-polluting vehicles. The market should be allowed to continue its good work.
During the general election and beyond, it is for us as Conservatives to oppose the spurious claims of the Labour Party on air quality. We should not let the Left’s virtue-signalling and scaremongering convince us that imposing further penalties on drivers would be a good idea. The ‘Just About Managing’ class would certainly not thank us for doing so.